The most important thing for a career in STEM is your mind. Your intellect, your raw capacity to compute the facts, your ability to make connections that other people wouldn’t make. These are all crucial parts of your ongoing success. You will also certainly need a solid set of qualifications to allow potential employers to trust in your skills and that your intellectual strengths have been formally tested by a reputable institution.
In a perfect world, these attributes would be the first and most important aspects of any job search and the first thing your colleagues would think of when assessing your work. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world, so to make the best progress we have to respond to social conventions and the perceptions of our peers.
Most people you ever meet will make up their minds about whether they like you in less than 30 seconds. Some studies suggest it is dramatically less than that, although some of the features that play into these judgments about you are beyond your control, some are not. In Europe and North America, the idea that people who are very overweight are lazy, undisciplined, or have weak resolve is very common. These stereotypes may well be inaccurate but that fact will not affect the subconscious perceptions of your co-workers. Our cultural perception is that weight gain is both undesirable and that it is the fault of the person who has accrued excess weight.
As a result, if you are wondering whether you could make a better impression on strangers, it may be useful to consider gradual, health-centered weight loss as a way to stop experiencing stigma around obesity. It may not be an approach that is fully body positive but it is an approach with recorded social perceptions behind it. Scientists and Engineers are not immune to the prejudices of the society we live in and a heavier appearance could be costing you opportunities.
In much the same way, being badly dressed or poorly groomed could cost you the good opinion of your colleagues. It goes without saying that having poor hygiene can only reduce your ability to make a positive impression but your clothing also makes a big difference. It may surprise you to know that the jury is still out on whether it is always a good idea to be formally dressed. If you’re looking to make the best possible impression, gauge the tone of the office.
You want to be in step with your colleagues but to choose something that flatters your figure and style. There is nothing wrong with wearing jeans on dress-down Friday but don’t go to your Monday morning meeting in flip flops. Showing that you have understood the environment and the people around you shows commitment to your workplace.
We all look forward to the day when looks won’t matter, but until then you can make some strategic decisions to get the best results.